Virtually all of us have experienced problems with sleep at some point in our lives. Sleep problems come in a variety of forms. Perhaps you’re unable to fall asleep, or maybe staying asleep is the problem, or perhaps you awaken unrefreshed two or three hours before you’d planned. The end result is that you’re tired the next day, or grouchy, or you can’t concentrate. And the next night arrives accompanied by that lurking fear: What if it happens again? Fortunately, most insomnia is transient, meaning that it clears up by itself.
Long term, or chronic insomnia might take a bit more work. Let’s see what our WholeHealth Chicago integrated approach can offer.
What is Insomnia?
The term insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or to problems waking up earlier than planned. An episode of insomnia that lasts only one or two nights is often due to stress or excitement. But often this condition becomes a chronic disorder that persists for months or even years, especially when the root cause is tension, anxiety, or depression. Some 20% to 40% of all adults report sleeping problems, but the rate rises sharply among older people. About 80% of those over age 60 experience fragmented sleep and often wake up repeatedly during the night. A complicating factor for insomnia is the wide natural variation in individuals’ sleep requirements. One person may need nine or 10 hours of sleep a night to feel rested, while another appears to flourish on five or six. Studies, however, have shown that some of those who claim to function well on five hours’ sleep would in fact benefit substantially from more rest. On the other hand, many people who complain of insomnia are actually sleeping longer than they realize.
No single remedy can be applied to the cluster of sleep disorders known as insomnia. However, a considerable variety of treatments have proved effective–sometimes dramatically so–in minimizing its impact and duration.
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Fragmented sleep (waking frequently during the night)
- Waking earlier than expected
- Fatigue, impaired concentration, mood changes due to lack of sleep
What Causes Insomnia?
Insomnia is essentially a symptom of other conditions or factors. Short-term insomnia may be brought on by jet lag, which upsets the body’s biological clock. Illness or pain can disrupt sleep patterns, as can stressful situations–a divorce, a new job–or such environmental factors as noise or room temperature. Once the specific problem is resolved, sleep usually returns to normal.
Insomnia can also be triggered by numerous other factors, including:
Caffeine and other stimulants. A single cup of coffee or tea during the day can leave susceptible individuals unable to sleep.
Sleeping pills. Within a few weeks they tend to lose effectiveness, leading to withdrawal that may cause rebound insomnia.
Alcoholic beverages. Drinking disrupts normal sleep, causing frequent awakenings. Sleep disorders linked to chronic alcoholism may persist for years, even after drinking is discontinued.
Physical disorders. Heart and lung diseases, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, gastroesophageal reflux, arthritis, adrenal disfunction and other ailments are known to cause insomnia. Prostate disorders, kidney disease, and diabetes may cause frequent awakenings at night to urinate.
Vigorous exercise late in the day.
Pregnancy (especially the last month).
Smoking (tobacco is a stimulant).
A bad mattress. Persistent insomnia can be more difficult to diagnose. Tension, anxiety, and depression are often at the root of insomnia. However, attempts to link sleep disorders with personality traits have been inconclusive.
Whatever its original cause, many experts believe that insomnia is prolonged by such behavior patterns as excessive time in bed, overuse of medications, and habitual napping. Researchers also find, ironically, that the harder individuals try to fall asleep, the more anxious they usually become–making success even more elusive.
Finally, fragmented sleep is sometimes the result of a potentially dangerous disorder called sleep apnea. Someone with this condition temporarily stops breathing numerous times during the night, then breathes very vigorously (with loud snoring) in an effort to recover–making restful sleep nearly impossible to maintain. There are a range of treatments for apnea from a special mask that exerts pressure on the airway to surgery on the soft tissues of the back of the throat which are often involved with creating an upper airway obstruction.
Treatment and Prevention
An array of supplement and self-help measures can be used to alleviate insomnia. And alternative medicine therapies, such as acupuncture and massage, as well as mind-body exercises, such as tai chi and meditation, can all aid in reducing stress, which should lead to sounder, more restful sleep.
In many, if not most cases, these will prove more effective–and have fewer side effects–than prescription sleeping pills. However, if you are taking a prescription drug for insomnia, don’t discontinue it without talking to your doctor.
Just a reminder: If you have a serious medical condition, it’s always a wise idea to talk with your doctor before beginning a supplement program.
Relief from an Insomnia
The inability to consistently sleep well is not only frustrating, it can also wreak havoc on one’s health. Call WholeHealth Chicago at 773.296.6700 to meet with an insomnia doctor Chicago IL.